“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are,” said renowned epicure Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. His treatise “Physiologie du gout” (“The Physiology of Taste”) was published in 1825 and offers a series of meditations on the senses, palate cultivation, gastronomy, appetite, digestion, pleasures of the table and obesity, among other food-related topics.
Brillat-Savarin is often considered the father of the low-carbohydrate diet and
his work helped found the genre of the gastronomic essay. He defined food as a cultural experience.
The Library’s Rare Book and Special Collections Division holds many gastronomy books, including “Physiologie du gout.” Other items include the first cookery book – the manuscript “Libro de Arte Coquinaria” (“Book on the Art of Cookery”) by Maestro Martino, ca. 1470 – and the first American cookbook, “American Cookery” by Amelia Simmons, published in 1796, just 20 years after the Declaration of Independence was adopted.
Eclectic manuscript collections, the precursors of printed cookbooks, provided the only systematic record of culinary technique before printing was introduced in Europe. Martino’s manuscript was situated on the cutting edge of the New Gastronomy. Written in a fine, cursive hand, its recipes cover meat, pasta, fish, cheese and more, and provide a glimpse into the Italian Renaissance kitchen.
Simmons’ cookbook is the first of American authorship to be printed in the United States. Numerous recipes adapting traditional dishes by substituting Native American ingredients are printed for the first time.
Another noteworthy item is the “Cours gastronomique,” a gastronomic map of France published in 1809. Tourcaty, the designer and engraver, names the dish for which each place is famed. The book was written by Charles-Louis de Gassicourt, who was the son of Louis XV and Marie-Thérèse Boisselet.
Many of these cookbooks are more than just recipe-laden; they offer advice and insight into domestic sciences and the household. In “The American Woman’s Home” (1869), by Catharine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, are recommendations and instructions on practical house design – especially with the newly invented ranges, stoves, refrigerators and other gadgets – and advice on cleanliness and healthful food-and-drink options. Peppered throughout are various illustrations depicting the many responsibilities of the household.
The majority of the items come from the division’s Katherine Golden Bitting and Elizabeth Robins Pennell collections.
The Library’s Science, Technology and Business Division also has lots of resources on food and cooking. For those interested in food traditions and customs, there is a Science Tracer Bullet on food history. The division has also put together a handy guide on home economics, which brings together a variety of research guides, webcasts and other resources in one place.